Most people never heard of Citizenship by Investment (CBI) until recently. Ordinarily people obtain a country’s citizenship by:
What most people are not aware is that most nationality law have also clauses that provides naturalisation being exceptional contribution to the country. These contributions can take many forms: artistic, scientific, athletic, economic etc... Think about a foreign football player becoming naturalised so he can play for the national team. Many of these laws were also put in place after WWII to naturalised foreigner that fought for the country during the war or during the liberation. Now what we called naturalisation by merit or exceptional contribution have been extended to include economic contribution in certain case. Many countries have them in their law but most of them have no regulations guiding these clauses. Those that have created regulations for naturalisation by merit or exceptional contribution take the name of Citizenship by Investment or Economic Citizenship.
Ordinary naturalisation is the process of obtaining citizenship after having spent a certain amount of years in the country. You are usually asked to having been physically present for X amount of years, be a permanent resident, speak the language and pass a civil integration test. Its what pretty much every immigrant as to go thru to become naturalised. Of course there also common requirements such as not being a security risk and be able to financially support yourself.
In those countries, a foreigner having made a significant contribution to the economy can have many of the conditions imposed on ordinary naturalisation waved. Meaning you might not need to have resided few years in the country or speak the language. The main difference rest in the process; its not straightforward. You will need to make your investment, not necessarily knowing if its enough and you will have to start exceptional proceeding towards the government for them to hear your request. The process itself can take years and not precise guideline is established. You will usually come to proceedings in front of a judge, committee to hear your request. That committee might meet only once a year. The Minister or President might have to sign off the request for it to become valid. Some European countries do provide naturalisation for economic contribution without having citizenship by investment program in place such as Austria or Poland. But they remain a gamble in comparison to those with CBIs. There are also countries like Romania that provide fast-track naturalisation to foreigner that have invest a certain amount of capital in the country. These processes usually enables the applicants to reduce by a couple of years the number of years of residence required to apply.
There are a handful of countries in the world that today offer a citizenship by investment program or economic citizenship. These program have precise guidelines and investment requirements. In most cases they don’t require the applicant to have resided in the country before and to know the languages. They can offer a few investment options such as cash donation, real estate investment or business investments. Most countries operating such programs are small nation that suffer from a high level of debt. These programs help them balance their budget and attract foreign capital. In the European Union, there are 3 CBIs that are currently in available to investors: Bulgaria, Cyprus and Malta. These programs, in contrast to the CBIs in the Caribbean’s, are fast-track naturalisation schemes. They require the applicant to hold a resident permit for 1 year (6 months fro Cyprus) in order to qualify for the CBI. While the applicant holds the permit (without the need to be physically present), the naturalisation process is on the way. Countries that offer citizenship by investment programs allow dual citizenship which might not be the case for other countries. These process are complex and always requires the intermediary of an accredited agent.